When does information become incentivisation?

December 3, 2009 at 2:44 pm | Posted in Ethics | 2 Comments
Tags: social media ethics, word of mouth ethics, disclosure, sponsored conversation, ftc guidelines, paid WOM

Back when the FTC’s guidelines on US bloggers’ disclosure of brand payment and gifting were announced in October, the controversy was predictably loud. The likes of CBS and Media Bistro highlighted the questions and ethical issues that the guidelines left unanswered, and the IAB published an open letter warning that they posed a threat to the Constitutional right to free speech. Search Engine Watch in particular said what many others were feeling: that opinions are different from fact, and the guidelines will be near-impossible to enforce.

Well, we’ll soon see. This week the guidelines finally came into effect and the continued debate around their usefulness will almost certainly have implications for future UK, European and global legislation.

The Boston Globe has collated a number of opinions from US bloggers. Most agree that there is a need to protect the independence of social media word of mouth, but there is also a strong sense that the guidelines ignore the subtleties of the space. Particularly interesting is the view of Ryan Spaulding, of Ryan’s Smashing Life music blog, that certain assets given to him by brands simply facilitate his opinion-making, without obligation: “I don’t look at it as payment. It’s what it takes to get the job done. To me this whole thing is a wide-cast net that doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

In some ways the hostility of the blogosphere has been surprising. Communities are fiercely protective of their independence and any attempts to astroturf, flog or conceal paid WOM have historically been met with vigilance and animosity. As blogger Dan Brown has asserted, the guidelines do have a necessary and positive role to play in maintaining trust. But it’s also evident that developing a relationship with a brand – which may bring certain assets, trials and exclusive information, events or opportunities – is a very different thing to being paid to talk. Bloggers who do the former, with the benefit of their readership in mind, do not want to be tarred with the latter’s brush.

What do you think? if you want to explore these and related issues in more detail face to face, join us at the FREE WOM UK/IAB debate Should social media be paid for? next Monday 7th December. Click here for details and to register.

‘Criteria of a successful rumor’: the original unethical WOM

November 4, 2009 at 11:41 am | Posted in Ethics | Leave a Comment
Tags: american intelligence, spreading rumours, word of mouth ethics

Could these be the original mind-spammers? An entirely unethical but utterly addictive 1943 American Intelligence document has come to light which outlines key strategies in spreading a rumour successfully.


Yes, yes, of course we disapprove – it’s based around forcing pre-crafted content onto an unsuspecting audience – but it still contains some gems of wisdom that relate to our collaborative and consumer-driven approach today. For example, there’s an acknowledgement that content must be plausible, simple, relevant and vivid; a demand that content must be suited to the channel; and a requirement that content is developed based on ‘intelligence on what kinds of information [communities] are eager for.’ Unfortunately, to these ‘operators in the rumor field’ it doesn’t matter a jot if any of it is true – a belief sadly shared by some propaganda-driven companies still trying to muscle into the space.

However, there’s no question that these guys believed in the power of WOM as a medium for changing both emotions and behaviour. Although their methods were seriously questionable, some elements of human psychology, the mechanics of influence and community action that they describe are undeniably interesting. Have a read.

via Second Brain.

FTC release Guidelines for Endorsements (and Bloggers) in the US

October 6, 2009 at 12:21 pm | Posted in Ethics, News | 2 Comments
Tags: FTC guidelines for endorsements, social media ethics, wom uk, womma, word of mouth ethics

FTCThis morning has seen the final release of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)’s guidelines for endorsements and bloggers  in the US. Although WOM UK is focused on professional and ethical development within the UK, word of mouth marketing is a global industry. Thanks to social media many campaigns operate internationally, both on and offline, so these guidelines will doubtless impact on the conduct of businesses and marketers this side of the pond. It’s worth downloading the PDF and having a read.

We’re doubly interested in the release because our sister organisation in the US, WOMMA – with whom we share a Code of Ethics and Best Practice – has been key in influencing the guidelines. Check out this post outlining their meaning by WOMMA President John Bell, and leave a comment on what impact you think they might have for the UK.

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